Finding The Fire in Your Gut

What fuels you? What really fires you up? And more importantly, are you utilizing this in your daily work? If you’re not, you’re closing the door on a potential source of ideas and inspiration.

It’s easy to become dispassionate about your work when you lose sight of the “fire in your gut.” When you fail to see yourself as on mission. When you lose touch with your capacity to influence the world for the better.

I spent the better part of the past few weeks in South Africa, mostly in and around the township of Soweto. It was soul-gratifying to visit some of the significant historical sites in the struggle for freedom for black South Africans, and to have dinner on the only street in the world that claims the former homes of two Nobel Peace Prize winners. I was enthralled by the stories of focused, persistent, patient effort over the course of decades that led to the eventual transformation of South Africa.

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” – Nelson Mandela

As I reflected on my time and experiences in South Africa, I had the insight that the times when I’ve been most effective were also the times when I was most obsessed with a cause. The process of finding your voice begins with identifying the thing that fuels your fire. Have you thought about what that might be? Not what others think it should be, or what others in your kind of job say it should be, or what it used to be, but what it is?

There are three elements that I believe fuel us to varying degrees: pay, prestige and process. Pay includes all of the physical benefits of our work, such as compensation. Prestige includes the accolades and recognition we receive for our work, including titles, promotions and awards. Process is about the work itself and being motivated by the continual discovery and challenge of solving problems and making progress.

And that’s the thing. If you can’t define what meaningful progress is to you, it will be difficult to identify the fire in your gut.

Few of us will have the chance to engage in a decades-long struggle for justice, but we all can identify something that fuels our process. What is that for you? What are you fighting for and against? How do you define greatness? 

We live with the stubborn illusion that we will always have tomorrow to do today’s work. Just a thought: I believe that the most important work we can all do today is to define what our work will be about.

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